If you are the typical mystery writer or JK Rowling, you write the ending first. Finishing a novel is all about cutting and pasting the last few pages onto the manuscript and then printing it out. But even if you are a “seat of the pants” writer, many elements may be fixed.
I’m not giving anything away by saying that, because Lucky Numbers is a love story. Somewhere, the heroine will go through ritual death, feeling she has totally messed up the objectives she’s had (including finding love). But the couple will get together and profess their undying love within the last few pages. The bad guy will get his come-uppings.
Does this make my job easier? No. Not at all. If I just do a paint-by-numbers (no pun intended), I’ll be bored and so will the reader. And, yet, I can’t go too far off the mark.
How do I, as a writer, with the end of the journey in sight, keep engaged?
First, I give myself permission to go off track. Whatever is written can be cut or rewritten. So, within limits, I can pretend I don’t have limits. (Get it?)
Second (and this may be a corollary to the first), I give my characters permission to do whatever they want to. If the bad guy wants to run away and avoid facing the good guy, he can try. (But the good guy may go after him.) If the heroine feels neglected or angry, so be it. If the hero makes a wrong turn on the way to the rescue because he trusts his GPS system, that’s tough. I expect and hope for surprises, even if they end up in the bit bucket.
Third, every scene must have emotion. This has been true throughout. I don’t know how you can engage your reader emotionally if you, the writer, aren’t. But the words flow too easily when you know what is coming next. I have had to come to a full stop repeatedly as I’ve been writing the last few scenes. This writing in stops and starts is a bit like being on a restricted diet. I feel like I am tempting writer’s block every time I wrench myself away from the keyboard, but I’m convinced that it is the right thing to do.
I’ve also made a point in these last few chapter of walking away from the day’s work mid-scene or even mid-paragraph. That way, I don’t go at it cold the next day. And one more thing on finishing this up. As much as I want to rush to the end, I also want to slow down. I’ve come to like the characters. I’m reluctant to say goodbye to them. And, even though I’ll have them in rewrite, they’ll never again be as fresh and alive to me.
Notes on what else is up.
I just finished the last pages of the galley for my nonfiction book, Innovation Passport. Blurbs are on About Peter Andrews page. Galleys have to be about the most tedious thing in the world. Reading for those typos, poor phrases and inconsistencies for the fifth or sixth time. Negotiating one more time with my coauthor. Seeing pieces that could be better (but it’s too late).
Blurbs, on the other hand, are fun. By definition, they are all positive, so it’s like asking folks for compliments you can put in print. Even better (for me), several people said nice things beyond the quotable blurbs. And the time so many people dedicated to the reading and evaluation really humbles me. I am immensely grateful.
Drama has gone down the tubes. I have been totally rejected by four consecutive festivals. (And the readings I’ve had with my two drama groups have made me want to apologize to the actors.)
On the other hand, I’ve sold another short story, one of my favorites, Peter’s Shell. This puts me into double digits in my current foray into SF and fantasy. In fact, with a bit of tuning, I’ve been able to sell almost everything I have written in recent times. It puts the pressure on to finish some material that has been yelling at me from the sidelines. Art Nerds is now on my to-do list.
Finally, an unexpected consequence of using a dictation program. For my current work, I’ve had to edit out, “oof! ouch! hey!” and other expletives. No. I am not writing for DC Comics. The problem is that the smaller cat, Kyoko, has decided that my dictation is an invitation to get close. In the middle of a paragraph, she’ll jump into my lap (oof!). Unpredictably, the claws will come out (ouch!). Or she’ll decide to poke me with sharp paws (hey!). All this is dutifully captured by MacSpeech, in one form or another. Now it is not as bad as when I failed to turn the mic off when I got a call from a salesman, but it is pretty weird all the same.